Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Rick Bass

Rick BassRick Bass is the author of over twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, including Winter, The Deer Pasture, Wild to the Heart, and The Book of Yaak. His first short story collection, The Watch, set in Texas, won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award, and his 2002 collection, The Hermit’s Story, was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. Bass’s stories have also been awarded the Pushcart Prize and the O. Henry Award and have been collected in The Best American Short Stories.   He was a finalist for the Story Prize in 2007 for his short story collection The Lives of Rocks and for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award in autobiography for Why I Came West (2008).  He lives in the Yaak Valley in Montana, where he serves on the board of the Yaak Valley Forest Council and Round River Conservation Studies.

Selected Publications:

 "Paradise Lost", Orion Magazine

"Fiber", Mississippi Review

Fiber. University of Georgia Press 

The Ninemile Wolves. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

The Deer Pasture. W. W. Norton & Company.

Winter: Notes from Montana. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

Oil Notes. Flamingo. 1990. 

The watch: stories. W. W. Norton & Company. 

Wild to the Heart. W. W. Norton & Company. 

The Lost Grizzlies.Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  

The Book of Yaak. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

Where the Sea Used to Be. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

The Hermit’s Story. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

Colter: The True Story of the Best Dog I Ever Had

The New Wolves: The Return of the Mexican Wolf to the American Southwest

Nashville Chrome: A Novel. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


How I Teach:

I try not to confuse my writing philosophy with my teaching philosophy, but from time to time they do parallel. Of the former, I am partial to stories—particularly but not limited to fiction--that emanate from a strong not-yet-knowable (and perhaps-never-knowable) place of the subconscious. I find appealing the simultaneous confluence of discovery between reader and writer that results when the writer doesn’t yet know the ending, and won’t, until right at the very end. By “know” I don’t necessarily mean understanding or plot resolution, but instead sometimes simply a deeper emotional inhabitation of the story; a twist that provides a new and deeper perspective.

When teaching, I don’t mean to suggest this is the right or only way to write a story, but instead that it is simply an interesting and challenging way to approach either a short story or an essay. Time and again, if the generative impulse, the germ of the story that first directed the writer’s pen to paper, is inhabited deeply enough—and the deeper the unknowing, the better—then the most wondrous parallels and metaphors will begin to occur, developing from the integrity of the subconscious.

I also like to lean heavily on basics: simple do’s and don’ts. Just because we’ve heard them all our lives—Show don’t tell; ration your adverbs; be specific; remember what is at stake, etc.—doesn’t mean that we are incapable of slipping up and forgetting these things in our writing. In this regard, the teaching of writing can almost be like coaching.

Finally, perhaps the most gratifying part of teaching for me involves tearing into a story or essay and trying to identify the story’s heart, and asking What if? and reassessing characaters’ motivations. It is in these exercises that stories and essays bloom most wildly, and is about as close to fun as you can come in writing.

It is a cliché to say that writing cannot be taught, but that it can be learned. It’s a pleasure to watch the real growth that occurs in writers as they come—through practice, effort, courage and attentiveness—to this place of growth.